Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Assessing Running Economy

I’ve often read articles about improving your running that speak quite importantly about improving your running economy.  More often than not, this tip comes without offering much solid advice for how to do so.  Great, so while I’m at it, I’ll just increase my speed and endurance too, right?  It makes sense though, as running economy is linked quite heavily to running form, and running form, as we all know, is the ultimate experiment of one in the running game.

I’ve been trying lately to assess just how I can improve running economy in my own form.  When I used to focus on shorter distances, I didn’t think much about economy; I would just get out there and get it done as quickly as I could.  But training for a marathon and then a 50K later this year has me very seriously considering whatever I need to do to make my form more economical.

The other day I set out for a hillier run than I normally do.  After a long steep climb, I found myself on a long steep downhill, and to be quite honest, I felt incredibly uncomfortable.  I felt like by trying to keep my form “normal” I was essentially putting on the brakes and as a side effect, causing more impact to my legs.  Neither of these was desirable.  So for a bit, I just let gravity take over.  As my pace started to increase, my stride lengthened out.  I still felt like I was braking and the impact on the legs were increased to a higher degree.  I was cruising pretty fast, but felt like I could easily take a tumble or roll an ankle. 

In the hopes of finding a comfortable way of keeping this pace (had to make up for a very slow climb) I started tweaking my form a bit.  One thing I did really make a difference:  kicking my legs up after a foot strike.  Suddenly, my pace increased even more and I started to feel much more comfortable. I think that, with the aid of the steep decline, my garmin was reading a sub 6-minute per mile pace (*very* fast for me). 

The takeaway from this experience for me was two-fold:  1. I learned a new trick that will help my running economy (bigger leg-kick aids my running economy, in contrast to the “marathon shuffle” I’ve been working with lately).  And, 2. I learned that a good way to “feel” running economy in an exaggerated way that makes things much more clear to me is to run down a steep hill while maintaining (if not slightly tweaking) and observing my running form.

Who knows if it will work for you, but the next time you’re heading down a steep hill, open it up a bit and see if you can feel what about your running form is holding you back from going faster.  Tweak that a bit and chances are you’ll see improvements on more level ground as well.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a great post, and i'm glad that you learned some good tips! Personally, I believe that letting gravity assist you is helpful, especially in races.

    A few things I keep in mind when descending steep hills - along with kicking my legs up higher, I also focus on how my feet hit the ground. I focus on heel striking but making sure that it's a light strike that immediately rolls onto the ball of the foot. In other words, you want your footstrike to be as light as possible. The trick is to be quiet; the more you hear your foot hitting the ground, the more the impact, so this feedback helps me do it "right." You do have to be careful in going down hills in this way is that doing so can shred your quads if they're not properly stretched out.

    I also make sure that my arms are swinging straight. Personally, I tend to swing my arms more side-to-side when going downhill, so I keep an eye on that.